Area blood centers are calling on healthy residents to donate blood after a number of community blood drive cancellations has led to a nationwide blood shortage, leaving officials concerned about creating a supply adequate enough to meet patient needs.
Community blood drives at area schools, colleges and businesses are key for replenishing blood centers’ supply, officials say. In fact, at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, mobile blood drive events make up 60 percent of the center’s blood supply.
But in recent weeks, as schools close and businesses send their employees home in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 100 blood drives have been canceled. Because of this, officials with the center says it’s short about 3,000 projected donations.
“We understand why,” said Kirby Winn, the center’s spokesman. “We understand organizations that have called off drives have a good reason, but it does have an impact on the ability to supply blood for patient transfusions.”
Blood centers nationwide face similar shortages since the coronavirus began infecting Americans.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, at a Thursday news briefing with President Donald Trump, called on young people to donate blood as the American Red Cross faces a “severe blood shortage” amid social distancing guidelines.
The American Red Cross, which has four offices in Iowa, has seen nearly 4,000 blood drives canceled nationwide as of Tuesday, “resulting in more than 100,000 fewer blood donations,” according to a news release.
“The need for blood is constant and will continue even as the outbreak grows,” the Red Cross news release stated. “Volunteer donors are the only source of blood for those in need.”
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Currently, the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center does have blood on the shelves at local hospitals ready for use and an adequate supply at area hubs throughout its service area, which covers more than 110 hospitals in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin.
However, blood has a relatively short shelf life. Platelets and thawed plasma must be transfused within five days, and red blood cells must be transfused within 42 days. In addition, people giving blood today are not eligible to donate again for 56 days, Winn said.
Therefore, it is key that healthy people donate blood in the coming weeks.
“There’s still trauma and other unexpected events occurring outside of COVID-19,” Winn said. “We have to have a blood supply available for that ongoing patient care.”
Public health officials emphasize that donating blood is safe, as there is no evidence that the respiratory virus can be transmitted through a blood transfusion. Because of this, the American Association of Blood Banks has not recommended that blood centers close or otherwise reduce their operations.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ state emergency proclamation this week — which limits mass gatherings to 10 people, among other measures — does not apply to blood centers as they are a health care entity providing a necessary service.
In addition, area blood centers have taken precautions to mitigate the risk of infection among staff and patients, such as separating donor chairs at least 6 feet.
Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center has also implemented screening measures to assess at-risk patients and are asking any individual to not donate if they have symptoms, including a fever or cough, or if they have been in contact with another infected individual.
“We cannot manage without a blood supply,” Winn said. “We are an essential service that’s going to continue, but there’s an expectation that we maintain a safe and hygienic environment and prevent the spread of infection.”
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Those interested in donating can visit the American Red Cross’s website, redcrossblood.org/give.
Individuals can schedule an appointment to donate at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center by calling 1-(800) 747-5401 or visiting the website bloodcenter.org or by using the blood center’s mobile app.
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